The world of data management was an emerging concept when Epitomy Solutions MD Andrew Vernon began his engineering career following university. A desire to improve systems with innovative high-tech solutions ultimately encouraged him to lead his own team…

Making changes, pushing boundaries and seizing opportunities was in Andrew’s blood from a young age. “Growing up involved multiple locations. My formative years took me from North London to Northumberland, Kent and Manchester, then to the Isle of Wight. There was always a move on the horizon, so I was never afraid of change or fresh challenges.”

“Our business was about how and why things work, and how to make sense of it all. At the same time we were allied to some incredible new technologies as the Internet opened up.”

At university in Sheffield he studied Mechanical Engineering. There, a love of machines, systems and automation took hold. The Steel City would feature later down the career path, but working life began with Simon Engineering, a Stockport-based machinery manufacturing group. There was a secondment to Ireland to commission two new flour mills plus transfers to overseas offices in Venezuela, Chile and Japan which whetted his appetite to travel the world.

“I then moved into industrial control systems, a move that would influence my future decision making and give me a first-hand insight into large-scale production automation. Managing a subsidiary of construction giant Taylor Woodrow taught me the importance of good teamwork; however, a merger with Wimpey forced a rethink. It was time to go it alone.”

That break from being employed to creating a business start-up involved a return to Sheffield. An old friend had some commercial space available, so getting up and running quickly was made easier. Engineering skills, an understanding of what manufacturers needed to improve efficiencies, plus a passion for emerging tech saw an IT venture emerge.

The Epitome of things…

Choosing a trading name is often a dilemma. Originally, EzeeSoft was chosen, based on the nature of the business. Before long, Andrew and his partners felt that it didn’t quite represent what they were trying to achieve.

“We became Epitomy because it portrayed the values we hold, and it sounded better. However, the actual name that we took was by accident. Epitome sums up everything that is right and perfect – that’s what’s what we aimed to be. When we checked, only the epitomy.com domain was available. It wasn’t the same spelling, but it stood out, was a little bit different and was unique to us.

“We grew from there by offering a good fusion between the mechanical building blocks for production, the technical knowhow to bring complex systems together, and the ability to incorporate the software that was evolving.

“It was a stimulating combination. Our business was about how and why things work, and how to make sense of it all. At the same time we were allied to some incredible new technologies as the Internet opened up. It was a great time to start up.”

Epitome sums up everything that is right and perfect – that’s what’s what we aimed to be.

Early projects saw Epitomy help manufacturers and distributors develop Electronic Parts Catalogues, a significant move for many of them who had relied upon printed materials for years. But as customers began to embrace the Internet, PIM (Product Information Management) was the logical next step. Epitomy had the software and coders to help open up new sales channels for its clients.

Promotion, staff and getting the balance right…

Publicising new services is an essential part of any company’s activities. For Epitomy and Andrew there was a novel advertising opportunity. A few years after the business launched, in 2007, along with his son and at least one other crew member, Andrew entered a yacht in the annual races at Cowes – competing off the Isle of Wight, with his craft emblazoned with the Epitomy logo.

“I’d loved sailing from a young age, and we often holidayed on the island. So getting involved in the Cowes weeks was perfect – professionally and socially. There are some great opportunities to network at such events, and as a bonus we won a race and came third overall in our class one year.”

Meeting some potential clients, enjoying positive reviews and getting referrals helped the business expand, but the age-old issue of getting the balance right soon presented challenges. It wasn’t all plain sailing.

“Finding new clients in the software and services industry is always hard, especially in a relatively niche area such as product information management. The barriers to entry in the IT sector can be low, but it’s easy to crash and burn if companies make mistakes and over stretch themselves.

“Having the right people in place is vital. They are the beating heart of any business. Building a team is hard. The secret is mapping team capabilities to opportunities, and that takes time. So our growth was deliberately steady.”

New office and green-thinking

The business caught the changing market and the appetite for IT services at the right time. There was plenty of interest in the data management and e-commerce products that Epitomy offered, so a move to a bigger office in the heart of Sheffield city centre was the natural progression.

The current office location is hardly green fields and country lanes, but the environment is always being considered. An air source heat pump has been installed, helping to control the working environment temperature without impacting further on the outside world.

Although relatively small scale, the heat pump is part of other initiatives close to Andrew’s heart. “Many years ago I was involved with a major project at Thetford Power station in the 1990s combusting chicken litter. It helped to introduce biomass to the UK power grid. More recently solar panels and a biomass boiler are in action back at the family home.

“Upgrading to a more spacious office was essential, and it’s in an area that many years ago was at the heart of the local steel industry manufacturing knives. Making use of brownfield sites and preserving traditions is an important element of regeneration and preserving greener spaces further afield.

“However, so too is how people travel. Our location is part of that mix. People who work at Epitomy can commute into the city by train and walk to the office within a few minutes. We have space to store bicycles, and there are shower facilities on site. So I’d like to think that we encourage people to keep fit and avoid using cars where possible.”

Moving forward with IoT and Industry 4.0

No business can stand still. As part of a booming digital scene in Sheffield, Andrew and other Epitomy staff now regularly engage with other companies, events, education establishments and tech initiatives.

“I’d like to think that we are helping to change the industrial retail paradigm with the services we offer. Layered distribution of goods and parts is being turned on its head.”

“We continue to work hard to promote training, learning and advancing skills where we can. We have a degree-level apprentice on board, and we’re looking at possible future link-ups with both Sheffield universities and also the University Technical College that supports 14-19 year olds.

“The Sheffield City Region and Welcome To Sheffield initiatives have offered us some excellent mentoring sessions to help us evaluate the business and plan ahead, and a number of partnerships have developed.

“The Goldman Sachs ‘10,000 Small Businesses’ has also been a great help. It assists companies like Epitomy to create jobs, access education, capital and business support services. I’d recommend it to any SMEs.

“The Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 are the latest buzzwords for how data, machines and systems will enable manufacturing facilities to connect and communicate in the future. The technologies we deploy for businesses are very real and very now!

“I’d like to think that we are helping to change the industrial retail paradigm with the services we offer. Layered distribution of goods and parts is being turned on its head. Our product data management tools help UK organisations exploit the changing environment so they can reach their own specific goals.

“Giving our customers a competitive edge makes what we do worthwhile and very satisfying.”